New London - As Jim Butler was running Saturday, he was thinking of the time his late friend John Kelley, the 1957 Boston Marathon champion and two-time Olympian, raced without thoroughly training.
"He said, 'Jim, you can't run on memories,'" Butler, the Connecticut College cross country coach and New London resident said with a laugh.
Except that Saturday's 50th Ocean Beach John & Jessie Kelley 11.6-Mile Road Race was driven very much by memories. More than 600 runners registered for the race on the overwhelmingly humid morning and there were 545 finishers, including several past champions and members of the local running community who mourned Kelley's death less than a year ago.
Kelley, who won the first two Ocean Beach races in 1963 and 1964, died on Aug. 21, 2011, at the age of 80, making this the first race - it was won by Connecticut College All-American Michael LeDuc, with Mystic's Laura Brustolon taking her fourth straight women's title - without him.
And while there was talk of instituting a race fee for the first time, with proceeds going to a statue planned to memorialize Kelley in his hometown of Mystic, race director Way Hedding knew that's not what Kelley would have wanted.
"He might have rolled over in his grave," Kelley's grandson Jacob Edwards said of the possibility of instituting a fee.
"I know this is what he loved to do," Edwards said looking around. "It's cool just to see all the people out; all these people loved him just as much as me. I think (if he were here) he would have had his quiet smile. He couldn't believe how running kind of transformed into being a spectacle of the elite. He couldn't believe people paid for running a road race."
Edwards, originally from North Stonington, ran the race without a number because he's competing in another race today and didn't plan to finish the Kelley Race, although he did.
Instead, the day's honors went to LeDuc, who finished in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 26 seconds, for his first victory in the event, and Brustolon, who finished in 1:10:18 (good for 10th overall) to become the first runner, male or female, to win the event four times in a row.
LeDuc, 20, finished fourth in the nation in Division III this spring in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, setting a school record in 8:59.54. An incoming junior at Conn, LeDuc, who is from Canton, stayed on campus this summer to work at the arboretum. Racing with a couple of teammates, plus Butler, LeDuc had company in the race only until about the 3-mile mark, when he broke away.
"I wasn't trying to do that or anything," said LeDuc, who ran the race for the first time last year and finished seventh in 1:06:16. "When you're running with someone else, there's something else to think about. It was me and the road there for a while."
Jamey Gifford of Burlingame, Calif., 34, a former track and cross country runner at Stanford University, was second in 1:05:36, followed by Everett Hackett of West Hartford, former champion Kevin O'Neil of North Kingstown, R.I., and David Billing of Gales Ferry.
Krisztina Dearborn of Charlestown, R.I., was second in the women's division in 1:14.06.
Brustolon, 24, is a 2006 graduate of Stonington High School and a 2010 graduate of Southern Connecticut State University where she was the New England champion in the indoor 5,000 her senior year.
She is currently training for the Cape Cod Marathon on Oct. 28.
Brustolon, whose former Stonington coach Tom McCoy held the finish-line tape along with former Sailfest race director Marie Gravell, said she heard so many people she knows talking about running the Kelley Race.
"They start jogging to get in shape for it," she said. "… I know (Kelley) would have loved to see just how many people came to his race."
Hedding said during a moment of silence for the Kelleys prior to the race, he saw a lot of tears.
"John and Jessie were near and dear to us," Hedding said. "He was here every year to fire the gun, to greet even the last runner."
"I haven't raced in 17 years," said Butler with a laugh of coming back to honor Kelley. "It was my first and last. Golf is my game now. But I never stopped and walked … Johnny kept me going today."